Obsession

I did a fair bit of obsessing last night, over a lot of things. One outcome was that I finally got what I hoped to get out of this thing-a-day project; a game plan for going forward. This didn’t work out the way I expected. I expected that I’d end up writing a few simple, fun posts that I liked, and discover subjects that I didn’t realize I had wanted to talk about. Instead, I discovered that the things I want to write about go deep, and need even more ongoing work and in-depth research to do properly.

I also need to take a break for now, because I’ve got two other big obsessions going on. One is a fiction project that I am very proud of and want to release when it is completed. I don’t think I am that far from completion, relatively speaking, and I want to hammer on through that. The other is a student who I have been assigned to work on. The Philadelphia special ed system is not what I’m used to. I have a toolkit, built from seven years working with special needs students, but some of the tools that I’ve used most aren’t useful, and others that have gone rusty with age are going to be called on a lot. Also, instead of focusing on the entire classroom to the degree that I’m used to, I have an assigned student who I need to support during their particular moments of need.

I… am not clicking with that student as much as I’d like to. In the long term, this isn’t the first time I’ve struggled to connect with a kid, and I’ve always been able to work through that eventually. Some you click with instantaneously, some take months to bond. The only thing that makes this different is that, on paper, I’m supposed to have a particular connection with this kid. I’m supposed to be able to handle him in his rough moments, and I can’t just hand him off to somebody else to work through things. So that’s frustrating. It also means that I need to use my obsessive personality to keep trying to figure him out.

Between the two of these things, I don’t think I have the mental space to give those posts the obsessive attention that they need. So I’m giving myself permission to take a break from this. I hate doing that, but I think it’s the only way that bigger, more important things will get done.

Thanks, as always, for reading, and I look forward to some future point when I’ll be obsessively posting here again.

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Ongoing

Today’s theme is, apparently, “keep trying.”

Keep trying to finish your story.

Keep trying to bond with the kid in your class who just flat out doesn’t want to work with you.

Keep trying to balance getting your shit done with taking it easy so this lingering cold doesn’t turn into full blown misery.

Keep trying to find something to say on your blog until the deadline of the 20th comes up.

Keep trying.

Continuing the Theme of Finding Material In My Own Reluctance to Write

A possible solution to the problem I talked about last Friday; focus on private experiences, without trying to convince anybody that my opinions, resulting from those experiences, are definitive.

A problem; it would be disingenuous.

Of course my real intent would be to convince. I love to debate. I love to prove wrong, and be proven wrong, to clash differing opinions together until the result is shaped and honed into something as close to truth as we can find it. At one point I thought of the internet as a great avenue for that impulse. I don’t feel that way anymore.

Friday

The last day of me writing a thing, on this week where I don’t want to write about a thing. As I examine why I’m so reluctant, I keep coming back to this; what if I’m wrong?

Well, assuming anybody is even paying attention, one of two things can happen. First, I can be called out on it. I am all right with that. Life is all about evolution. We evolve through failure and criticism. It is fine to be told I am wrong.

Second, I can go uncriticized. This is the option that scares me. In these days of the internet, so much information is put out there without proper fact checking. We are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of research that must be done, and so instead we follow the people who say what we would like to believe. What if, in trying to correct the failings of someone else, I spread my own misinformation?

This is another reason I crave privacy. I am currently learning things and I do not think I am certain enough in what I know to speak about them. When I speak, I want to either be sure I’m right, or be sure that I’m speaking with the kind of authority that will bring a qualified critic to me. I don’t want to be another uncorrected, ignorant voice cluttering the debate.

Writing About Writing About Writing

Welp, I fucked up. I was supposed to push through and put something out there yesterday. I didn’t.

Instead, I hammered away at a scene I’ve been struggling with, because it has a lot of characters and moving parts. It turned out pretty well, after hours of fiddly work. I’m finding the secret to my writing productivity is hitting a balance between idealism and acceptance. Like any writer, I need to accept that some things will need to be fixed later, and some things will never be fixed at all. At the same time, if I feel like yesterday’s writing was at least marginally good, I am more likely to return to it today.

I think, in order to continue this blog, I need to find that balance. The bit I wrote from the day before yesterday made me realize I need to re-find that slice of my life that is public enough for me to share yet private enough to be meaningful. I also need to find the place where I can let my blogging be flawed, but good enough to come back to.

Hopefully more tomorrow, as I continue to think about what this blog can and should be.

Privacy and Processing

I decided yesterday that “no writing on weekends” includes three day weekends. Then today, I continued not feeling like writing.

Or rather, I felt like not writing anything but my story. I am excited about the story I’m working on. It’s the second thing I’ve written recently that I actually want to share with the world. I love the feeling of having two works in progress that may actually be published, in some form or another. What I don’t feel like doing is writing the blog.

Mostly that’s part of suddenly feeling very private. Which is a problem, because we live in a social media driven age. I want my stories to be successful; a social media presence of some sort will be integral to that (especially as I want to pursue non-traditional publishing avenues). Yet I don’t want to share myself on social media. I have no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, nothing but this and an email address and a Tumblr. So I damn well better not neglect what I’ve got.

But I want to. I want to because I’m processing. I fear the intrusiveness of social media, because I worry that it doesn’t give us enough time to process our feelings before we make them a matter of public record. There are ideas I have, but I don’t want to commit to them, not because I don’t want to share my thoughts, but because I don’t trust the internet to let my ideas evolve. Or to not dredge up what I have now in order to tear me down later, regardless of whether or not it is relevant.

Also, sometimes I just want to talk things out with myself and a few close friends before I share them with the world.

Anyway, now I’ve stalled for one day. Let’s see what I am thinking about tomorrow.

Why “Ugh, Men,” Will Probably Get to Me, But “Ugh, White People,” Probably Won’t

In social justice circles, there has been a recent, common acceptance of the idea that jokes targeting privileged people never count as unkind. This isn’t the argument everybody sets out to make, of course. Many people make a sensible distinction between targeting privilege and cultural institutions, as opposed to targeting groups of people. But the pervasive attitude is that complaining about jokes that come at the expense of a privileged identity is uncool. Privileged people should always be able to shrug them off.

I think this is a flawed attitude. First, I think any joke told in an unkind spirit is automatically unkind. An unkind joke aimed at a person of privilege probably won’t be as institutionally damaging as one aimed at a marginalized person, that much is true, but if the intent was truly mean spirited and hurtful, the teller of the joke still bears the responsibility for intentionally being an asshole to another human being.

But there’s also differences in the underlying structures of privilege, and the messages people send with common jokes. I am white and male. When a Black person teases me for being white, the dynamic is starkly different from when a woman pokes fun at me for being male.

For one thing, racial jokes typically poke fun at attributes that don’t especially matter. I’m quiet. I’m an awkward dancer. My tolerance for spicy food leaves something to be desired. These are traits that are so irrelevant, in the grand scheme of who I am, I can’t possibly imagine them being made fun of with a real intent to do harm. It would take a remarkably thin skinned person to find them genuinely offensive.

But when I hear a woman start saying, “ugh, men,” I flinch, because I expect to be hit somewhere that will actually hurt. They do generally cut to something that goes deep under the surface. For example, crying. I’ve known a lot of strong women who mock men when they cry. This comes in two ways, often from the same people. One minute I hear men torn down for being insufficiently emotional. The next second I see men who complain when they are sick or hurt or sad called “crybabies.”

The stigma against men crying is tied to a lot of sexist ideas about emotions and weakness; ideas that harm both men and women. Women are allowed to express most of their emotions, with the exception of anger, whereas for men anger is often the only avenue permissible. Really, all humans should be allowed to feel and express the full range of human emotions. Feminists are good about reclaiming anger for women, but not all of them are actually comfortable with men reclaiming things like joy, pain, grief, embarrassment, and sadness. Expressing pain and sorrow is critical to processing it, and the pathological effects of men not expressing it is actually documented. Men are less likely to seek help when sick, and thus more likely to die of treatable conditions, and while women attempt suicide more often, they are far more likely to engage in the hesitant, cry-for-help sort that leads to lifesaving treatment. Men are significantly more likely to hold off on any mental health treatment until they are absolutely beyond a shred of hope. Then they actually kill themselves. The rate of successful first-time suicide attempts for men is much, much higher.

In contrast, white people don’t eat as much spicy food because we came from areas without as many spicy plants. So we grow up with more mildly spiced food, because that’s what’s in the family recipe book. It’s not exactly a big deal.

And yet, I feel as though, if I point out the distinction between these jokes, somebody is going to lump me in with the people who pretend we’re in a free speech dystopia just because sometimes privileged people are being mocked too. That’s not it. That’s not it at all. I don’t mind jokes that don’t come with a mean spirited intent, and that aren’t targeting a genuine source of pain and trauma.

I just want activists to take a moment to think about which category their joke actually belongs in.

On Love and Meltdowns

I’m currently relearning how to do special education. I spent seven years in Virginia, supporting a mix of affluent and middle class families, in a relatively privileged and academically advanced district. Now I’m in a city that I love, but which does not have a good reputation, as far as education goes. I’m in a school that mostly supports low income families. Their idea of a kid who is academically doing well is one who I would have considered, in Virginia, to be a solid grade behind. On top of that, I’ve switched from classrooms that mainly support autistic or learning disabled students, who occasionally had behavioral or mood disorders complicating their situation, to a class where the primary issue for nearly everyone is behavioral/emotional.

It’s been a pretty sobering week, and on my third day in I nearly cried, but not because of anything particularly bad that happened. Bites, punches, kicks, spit and the odd thrown chair are all part of the drill for me. I can shrug them off, and get right to, “why did this happen and what can I do about it?”

Not much bad happened that day. Nobody was on the verge of getting hurt. But kids were being defiant, in a way that bothered me not because I particularly cared whether they listened or not, but because it was a type of defiance that only comes from a place of deep hurt. There’s a type of disobedience that you only see from kids who have given up on the whole idea of adults being trustworthy. Or who have given up on the expectation of patience and gentleness. Or have given up on themselves.

I’m not used to that. I’m used to a kid having a meltdown because they want to ask for gummy bears but the batteries are dead on their communication device.

Now, for the first time in years, I have no clue what I’m doing.

But here’s the cool thing. I’m not just in a “bad school.” I’m in what’s called a turnaround school. I’m in a school where the parents and educators recently rose up, said that enough was enough, and demanded the resources and accountability to get things fixed. I’m in a school where, behind as they are, over the past year their scores and achievements have dramatically increased. I’m in a school where the whole team is done with “this is hard” as an excuse.

The one thing I haven’t seen is a lack of love for the kids. I thought I worked with some great teachers in Northern Virginia (and I did!) but there were always some rotten apples who just didn’t care anymore. Or who only wanted to care about the “good” (read, “easy”) kids. Or who only cared about the white and Asian kids. In this school, I haven’t met a single person who wasn’t ready to work their ass off to help every damn kid in the building.

I wanted to cry on Wednesday, but I didn’t, because one of the behavior support staff said, “we’re just glad you’re trying. In the past we’ve worked with people who don’t even try.” And then we had a long, good conversation about what I was learning about these kids, and what I can do better. I tried her advice, and today went better.

Tomorrow might be better or might be worse. But it will be okay. It will be okay.

Rumi, by Farrukh Dhondy

Image result for rumi farrukh dhondy

What It’s About

Love, religion, hope, ecstasy, being a human in search of connection with the great divine, whatever that is.

Why I Think You’d Like It

Rumi was a Muslim poet from the 13th century. He started life as a Sunni and became a Sufi mystic and one of the best loved writers of the Arabic speaking world. In the English-speaking book lover’s world, he is at a weird position between famous and obscure. If you’ve heard of him, you’ve probably stumbled into a corner of the literary world where his presence is truly prolific; the kind where people go, “wait, you haven’t heard of Rumi?” If you haven’t… you’re in the sad boat I was in up until about a year ago and I’m so sorry. His shit is so fucking good.

The main reason I didn’t recommend Rumi up until now was that I felt I had to look carefully for the right translation. Poetry translations are, by their nature, very interpretive. Poetry isn’t straightforward. Points are alluded to with cultural associations, ideas are pretzeled around to fit a chosen structure, and simplistic points are elevated with tricks of rhythm and alliteration. And apparently, according to Arabic speaking, Muslim fans, English translators have tended to let Rumi’s faith slip through the cracks.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s a lot of beauty in Rumi’s work even if you don’t get all the religious connections. He speaks to the human condition. But at the same time, his experience of the world and his art was closely entwined with his faith, and he would probably be heartbroken to know how much of that was left out. When you add the modern need for a more complex understanding of the Muslim faith, that’s especially tragic.

Farrukh Dhondy’s translation is by far my favorite. It adds in enough to make the faith explicit, without alienating readers who are less familiar with Islam. It helps the reader connect to Rumi’s faith, regardless of where they are coming from, while still engaging with the romance and devotion and raw joy that makes Rumi so captivating.

Also, there’s an introduction that specifically discusses these issues, as well as the early history of Muslim mysticism and spirituality, which is one of the rare introductions that I have found completely engrossing on it’s own. I normally skim or skip introductions, but this one was interesting enough to make me want the author to write his own book on the subject. If he ever does, I’ll be reading it.

Content Warnings

You’re good.

The Enneagram Through Popular Songs, Part Two

When I was originally making the list of songs from yesterday, I was torn between “Cheap Thrills” and “Chandelier” by Sia. Both were great, but “Chandelier” really cut into the core of a Seven. Almost too much. It felt unfair to give all the others some basic introduction level songs, and then give Sevens one that dove uncomfortably deep.

So of course I made a second list of songs that ripped uncomfortably deeply into the hearts of all the other types. See why this system is so much fun for character writing?

When I was stumped for any of these, I asked myself, “what is the last thing that a [blank] is willing to reveal about themselves.”
I think for Ones, that’s how much they enjoy a bit of righteous smashing. They want to always have a good reason for it, as exemplified by the line, “this used to be a funhouse, but now it’s full of evil clowns.” But there’s a glee there, and it’s scary to admit, because if you admit that you enjoy destroying your enemies, that raises the question of whether they deserved it. Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes no. But it’s a hard question for Ones to remember they have to ask.
This was an easy pick. “I love you desperately, but you aren’t willing to take it to the same intensity level as me, and I don’t know how to handle that.” That’s the ultimate Two problem.
I mean, I think the title gives it away. The deep, dark, badly kept secret of a Three is their struggle to find themselves behind their own masks. I especially like this song because of the lines about having nothing left to lose and nothing left to prove. I think that’s the scariest time for Threes; when they have already proven, achieved and won over everyone, and suddenly they just have to live with whatever mask they’ve constructed. It’s a scary time to ask how well that mask fits.
Man, I wouldn’t have expected Slim Shady to be the one to perfectly encapsulate the essence of a Four. Twice.
But I love this story he’s telling of being lost in the vicious cycle of his own celebrity. I think the trap of a Four’s fourishness is that our self-reflections, without external contact, become self-devouring. We run out of things to write so we write about our art. Then our writer’s block. Then our depression over our writer’s block. The most terrifying realization is that we sometimes need to look outside to find ourselves.
5. Both Sides Now, by Joni Mitchell (the song which I only recently learned wasn’t actually called “Clouds”)
What is the ultimate result of wisdom? The realization that our puny human brains are too small to fully encompass the shifting intricacies of reality. It’s a pretty vicious Catch-22 for any intellectual, and particularly cutting for a 5.
If the deep dark secret of a Two is their clinginess, the secret of a Six is their willingness to turn on you. Their commitment comes from a desire for security. They understand that security is something that they, in part, create for themselves through their commitments. And if the math turns out to not be worth it, and they’ve checked and double checked their figures, they will turn. They would love to be the person who would go off a cliff with you. But only if you actually prove you’re smart enough to not drive them off a cliff. Sixes are willing to veer at the last minute and leave you shooting over the edge. And if you shout “why????” as you go plummeting to your death, their answer will probably be a shrug of half-hearted guilt, and a “you kind of forced my hand, bro.”
Now, I don’t think that’s at all what was going on with Taylor Swift and Kanye/the Kardashians, and I’m mad that I even know enough to have an opinion. I just think a lot of the lines about betrayal and suspicion and finding a hidden dark side do a good job describing the backstabby side of Sixes; the one they don’t want you to find out they have.
Again, this is the one that inspired the whole series. It lays out the twisted inner workings and dark anxieties of a Seven too perfectly to not inspire a playlist. Just… just listen to it, if you haven’t already. It’s the guidebook to a Seven.
Eights were surprisingly hard, largely because they are so intense, it’s hard to think of the side they wouldn’t want you to see, on the level of Chandelier or Funhouse. But I think the thing that scares Eights about Eights is that the ultimate person they have to control is themselves.
The deep dark secret of a Nine is how stressed out they actually are. How much they wish someone else would take over that work of making things okay for everyone else.